Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
June 14, 1999
Saved by the Sacred Heart
The traditional picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus shows a lance piercing a burning heart which is surrounded by a crown of thorns. Such an image can be a fruitful source of meditation on God's merciful love for sinful humanity. Every person but one came into this world to live; Jesus came into it to die.
God's love for us outstrips our imagining. Jesus died not for a cause or because he loved humanity in general. He died for a person - me. And for you.
Jesus had friends - the Apostles, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, Mary and Martha. St. Paul too who wrote, "The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
There is nothing more central to our faith than this awareness of Christ's personal love for each of us. Jesus came not to judge, but to love. Our relationship to Jesus is not that of unredeemed sinner, but of forgiven sinner, as one who has been saved.
St. Th‚rŠse of Lisieux felt the traditional image of the Sacred Heart did not go far enough. "To sleep on his heart, so close to his face; such is my heaven," she wrote.
It is through a heart which loves God and other people that we most fully achieve our humanity. Too often our society glorifies towering intellect, willful determination or material possessions as the source of our greatness. But intellect, will and wealth bereft of love are worse than empty; they are dangerous.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus - a feast we celebrate on June 11 this year - reveals to us that it is not through our strengths, but through our weaknesses laid bare, that salvation is found.
We work hard for achievements, as well we should. But if those achievements are ours - and not those of God working through us - of what use are they? They bolster our pride, but leave nothing of eternal value. God works best when we give him our weaknesses, our sinfulness and our humility. If we can't be vulnerable and humble, we can't belong to God.
Of late, we have taken to calling Pentecost the birthday of the Church. We ought to be careful with this. Pentecost was about the Holy Spirit giving power to the disciples. But the Church was born not of strength, but out of weakness.
Traditionally, the Church has taught that "The Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 766). The water and blood pouring out of Christ's lanced side are the water and blood of Baptism and the Eucharist. Christ's mortally wounded heart is what makes Christ's love available to all. St. Bonaventure wrote, "Flowing from the secret abyss of our Lord's heart as from a fountain, this stream gave the sacraments of the Church the power to confer the life of grace."
Christ's total gift of self to the point of humiliating death is the source of our life. This is the depth of the Sacred Heart. The best we can do is receive that love especially through the sacraments, imitate it and pass it on. We can abide next to the heart of Jesus where we receive the Father's love. It is through this heart which freely chose to be weak that we can find the strength God wishes to give us.
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